Wednesday, August 8, 2012

July 29, 2012 - Scarcity. Really?

           John 6.1-15 - Jesus feeds the 500
           Brandi Tevebaugh, Clergy Intern, Church Street United Methodist Church
          I have to wonder what our response would be if the question Jesus asks Philip were raised in a contemporary congregation.  He asks, *Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?*  I  have to believe that our responses would be somewhat similar to the disciples:  that our finance committees would calculate the expenses, as Philip does; that our missions team would note that this was not part of their original plan for the year and the resources simply are not there even after searching through congregation as does Andrew; that our discipleship and worship committees would be busy preparing for the upcoming festival, Passover in this case, and not say anything in response but simply be slightly annoyed that we have all these extra people here at an already busy time; that our properties committee would maybe help seat everyone but would all the while wonder what the impact of five thousand people would have on the grass out front, already dying because of summer heat.  Despite our desires to do more, despite seeing the need of the hungry, I wonder if we like the disciples would come up short, and say, “There’s just not enough, Lord.  Why would you even ask us to feed all these people when you know there’s just not enough?”
            I doubt that we would expect this question “Where do we buy bread for all these people?” to be anything more than a logistical conundrum.  The disciples didn’t really either, but when Jesus asked thisquestion, he knew what he what he was about to do and more than a logistical problem it was a question about who the disciples believed Jesus was and what they believed he was capable of.  I don’t think he wanted Philip or Andrew to solve the problem, but instead, he wanted them to remember who it was that they had been following around.
            I get the sense that as Christians we often do this.  We forget who it is that we follow, and when we run up against our own logistical conundrums, we throw up our hands and say there’s just not enough.
            We live in a world that is very aware of scarcity because we live in an information age.  We cannot escape the constant flow of images and news stories.  We watch a show and read the scrolling text underneath, we look at a website and see the ads on the side.  Information is everywhere, and what do we hear?  We hear that a shooting has occurred in Aurora, Colorado taking the lives of 12, that coaches and teachers that we should be able to trust are themselves broken people.  We hear that there are millions of starving children, we hear that water is the most precious resource we have and that clean drinking water in developing countries is a matter of life and death, we hear that tsunamis, tornados, and hurricanes have left people without homes.  In these instances, the mantra that knowledge is power does not necessarily apply.  The knowledge that these things are going on, that there are people in need, does not always empower us, but instead, many times, it paralyzes us.  We look around at our resources, and we throw up our hands and say as Andrew, “But what are they among so many needs?”
            Andrew finds a boy with five barley loaves and two fish that he is willing to give.  “There is not enough,” he cries, “there is only enough for the boy and you want to feed 5,000?  Jesus, are you crazy?  Not only is there not enough, but it’s travelling food for the poor.”  Barley loaves were cheaper than wheat, they contained fewer calories and had a lower gluten count, but they were a staple for the poor, constituting a major part of their diet.  The fish that he had were not the catch of the day.  They were more like sardines, small and pickled.  There was no other way to preserve them, and this was common fare in Galilee.  There simply was not enough, and to top it off, it wasn’t even the good stuff.  If you’re going to respond to a need, don’t you want to put your best foot forward?  You see, even in our knowledge of scarcity, don’t we want the best?
            I’m pausing right here, to stop and look you all in the faces, and change my tune just a little bit.  We’ve been talking in the abstract pretty much about there not being resources to meet the world’s needs, that there might be hungry, thirsty, and cold people.  I want to tell you all that I feel like I’m preaching this sermon a little differently than I originally intended to.  On Tuesday in worship planning, I said that in my study for this sermon I kept running across the idea of scarcity.  I obviously latched onto it a bit, but not to say that our growling stomachs would be filled, or our parched mouths wetted.  The reason my tune changed a bit was that I realized I would be standing in the Nave, a place that has been a central and loved part, but not a place where I feel comfortable talking about scarce resources.  Then I went and sat at my computer, to type my sermon, and it hit me that I only think my resources are scarce.  I have a computer, I have more than enough food on my dinner table, I have an education, I have a home, I have access to information about those in need constantly filling my ears with television, radio, internet.  I had no right nor did I feel comfortable looking at you all and talking about scarcity.
            You see, dear friends, I’m not really sure that we can be the ones that say we don’t have enough, and yet we are the ones who do not think we have enough.  There is not enough time for me to visit all the people in the hospital, we don’t have enough money in the budget to make that repair or change to the building, I don’t have enough energy to work on a mission project, or we don’t have enough people for that event.  We don’t want to give or commit to something unless we can give our all or our best.  Poor man’s travelling fare – bread and fish – simply will not do from us. 
            As Christians, we forget who it is that we follow. 
            This is not me trying to guilt you into giving whatever you have in your pockets or spending your last free hour on a church committee or feeling a bit more shame as you pass the homeless person on the corner in your car.  That’s not what’s going on here.  What’s going on here is that we are trying to confront the problem of scarcity for what it really is.  I know for many resources are indeed scarce, but I think the real problem lies in that sometimes there is not enough love, not enough hope, not enough peace, not enough joy.
            This Scripture is a miracle.  It takes our not enough, our poor man’s travelling fare, and places it in the hands of Christ.  In the hands of Christ, dear friends, not enough is never the final answer.
            We forget who it is that we follow, we forget that he takes whatever we give, we forget that he transforms our offerings of resources into means of distributing grace, and because we forget we wait till it’s safe to give or to go or to do or to build.  Here’s my challenge to you and to me: expect God to show up, expect the miraculous because in the hands of Christ our not enough are turned into abundances,
            He takes the loaves and fish, the poor man’s food, gives thanks and distributes them – to 5,000 people.  The Scripture says “as much as they wanted.”It wasn’t just a little taste of the goodness, it was enough to satiate their hunger.  It says “when they were satisfied.”  The crowd ate till they were full. 
            When even our smallest offerings are laid in the hands of Christ, big things can happen. 
            Mother Teresa began the Missionaries of Charity order to minister to the poorest of the poor.  She began with only 13 members.  That order now has of members, caring for orphans and working in charity centers.
            Millard and Linda Fuller began Habitat for Humanity with just a few tools and a handful of volunteers.   Today Habitat has built more than 500,000 homes, sheltering 2.5 million people worldwide.  Many of you are familiar with that organization.
            A little bit closer to home.  In 1984, Dr. Toombs Kay stood in this pulpit and challenged you to feed the hungry.  The first week the soup kitchen was open only 5 people came, but the last time I walked through Soup Kitchen we were serving WAY more than 5, somewhere in the hundreds for sure.  Walking through there and visiting with the volunteers is one of my favorite things during the week.  There is a sense of purpose and love in the faces of those volunteers.
            You know, this summer has been a fast one and a good one and one full of learning and one in which I have grown to love this congregation.  I have seen you raise money in the Hunger Helper market, love Sunday School members who have been ill, serve in the Soup Kitchen, roller skate with Wesley House kids (yeah, you can laugh at that one), collect school supplies, I even witnessed one UMW circle collecting plastic grocery bags for a company to make sleeping bags for the homeless, I’ve seen your youth covered in dirt, sack-crete, and sweat this week at Operation Backyard. 
            This church has shown me, not just told me, that in the crisis of scarcity, we have something to give.  Is it enough?  Dear friends, I have been challenged by this Scripture to remember who it is that I follow, to remember that our world of not enough is not the conclusion to this story.  There is still need, and we are not a people that doesn’t have enough.  We are a people that can see the world that has too much information, too much hunger, too much pain and not enough answers, not enough resources, and not enough bread, and respond.  Christ took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them.  We are a people in the hands of Christ. 
            In more ways than one, we are not a people that can claim scarcity.  Because in the hands of Christ, there is more than enough love, more than enough hope, more than enough grace, more than enough joy, and more than enough bread. 
            The conclusion of this story has the disciples picking up the leftovers, picking up more than they started with.  You see, even the leftovers of this meal were valuable.  Our leftovers – our people, our food, our resources – should not be discarded as worthless, but kept so that not a crumb gets lost or forgotten. 
            The miraculous has happened and not enough has turned into abundance.  Dear friends, it’s a miracle that reveals the power, the hope, the love of God.  So what are we to do with this story?  To sit and marvel at the miracle?  I think that’s part of it, yes, but more than that, I think we should expect God to show up in our lives and ministries to empower us to respond to the world’s scarcity of food, water, shelter, love, peace, knowledge of Christ, leaving behind our own feelings of not having enough time, money, or energy and resting in the faith that whatever we give is multiplied in the hands of Christ.  I think this story not only challenges us to more radical leaps of faith and ministry, but also, comforts us that as followers of Christ, we travel with one who makes sure there are even leftovers.  

            This church is a place of responding to the physical needs and spiritual needs of both its members and those outside its doors.  If you would like to join us in that endeavor and to be part of this community of faith or maybe you are professing for the first time that you want to follow Christ, we invite you to the front during the singing of the last hymn.  Please stand with us as we sing Hymn number 664 Sent Forth by God’s Blessing.
BENEDICTION: The hymn says “With your grace you feed us, with your light now lead us.”  Go from this place fed by the grace and love God – there’s plenty, and go from this place lead by the light of Christ so that you may share the grace and love of God that we have in abundance. Amen.

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